Thursday, 15 February 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is also to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. I'm speaking as a senator from South Australia, the state that stands to benefit the most from a successful implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Can the minister advise the Senate of the consequences to the River Murray environment in South Australia if the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is abandoned?
I thank Senator Fawcett for his question and his passionate advocacy of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, that provides certainty and security to the people of South Australia and to all river communities. Having a credible plan guarantees sustainability for the environment, for the economy and for the communities of the river system. Yesterday, sadly, we saw recklessness in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in this Senate, and the destruction of bipartisanship that had underpinned progress since the Water Act was passed in 2007 and underpinned agreement and progress in 2012, when the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was agreed to. Tragically, that means that at risk is certainty for our home state and for all river communities about the guarantee that we will have the water to sustain our river systems, the water to sustain the economies of our communities and the water to sustain the society of those river towns.
What is at risk is an extra 3,200 gigalitres of equivalent environmental flows throughout the river system. By putting that at risk—and that is what everybody opposite did last night—they do put at risk the health of the Murray mouth, the health of the Lower Lakes, the health of native birds and species, the health of irrigation communities, the health of river communities and the health of the populations who live up and down the Murray-Darling Basin.
For 118 years this country has argued over water, and who should be responsible for it and how it should be managed. It was a great breakthrough when the Basin Plan was adopted and it has been sustained and underpinned by bipartisanship. It will only work in the future with bipartisanship and with, as Senator Ruston has rightly said, all sides stopping pointing guns at each other's heads and instead coming back to the table to work through a solution.
Around one in five South Australians are employed in the agriculture, food or tourism sectors, much of which depend on the river to sustain them. Many people live along the basin communities in South Australia and, as everybody appreciates, Adelaide is heavily dependent upon the basin as well. All of these factors are reasons the Basin Plan needs to be delivered in full and on time. It needs to be delivered in a way where we won't walk away from commitments that we have made to each other, which is what the Labor Party sadly did in this place last night. We must make sure that at every step we back the independence of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which the Labor Party ignored last night, and the scientific evidence provided by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which the Labor Party ignored last night. We must make sure we live by our commitments, and, sadly, the Labor Party broke the commitments they made to the northern basin communities last night, and that is what is putting the whole plan at risk.
As Senator Ruston has rightly said, we have different parties who've now pointed guns at each other's heads. We've had the Labor Party here in the Senate acting in concert with the Greens and the Xenophon party, threatening to walk away from a key element of the plan and, indeed, walking away from that key element last night. That has resulted in those upstream saying, 'We'll walk away from the plan altogether.' The only way to put the pieces of this plan back together is for everybody to lay down their arms and come back to the table, and to recognise that the plan that was stitched together carefully in 2012 is the one we should see fully delivered and fully implemented. The Labor Party needs to stand by what they agreed to in 2012. And upstream states need to stay at the table to make sure they give certainty to their river communities that ends what has been, as I said, more than a century of arguing over water and gives us the sustainable, healthy river and communities that we all want to see.